By Ann Fagan Ginger, Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute
The UN Human Rights Committee, with members from every region of the world, met in July in Geneva and listened to representatives of 40 U.S. Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), who described specific human rights problems in the U.S. since 9/11, including the treatment of Katrina victims and Guantanamo detainees.
The Committee read the U.S. Government report required under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and listened to representatives of the State, Justice, Interior, Homeland Security, and Defense Departments. The Committee followed up with questions based on the NGO oral presentations and 140 NGO written reports. It then presented its Concluding Observations in 37 paragraphs on the issues, the law of the Covenant, and what the U.S. must do to correct the problems discussed.
Highlights of the Human Rights Committee’s Observations
The Committee selected six problems requiring reports back by the U.S. government within one year, focusing on Katrina victims, interrogation of people taken by the U.S. military or other agencies, and treatment of detainees in all types of U.S. facilities and of those being sent to other countries.
Although the Committee’s meeting and remarks have received little coverage in the U.S. media, human rights lawyers in the U.S. make the connection between these events and recent U.S. Government announcements that more money will be sent to aid Katrina victims, the U.S. will initiate an investigation into alleged mistreatment of fleeing African Americans fleeing the flood over the Gretna Bridge in New Orleans, and the very delayed beginning of trials of U.S. troops for violating the laws of war in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Following recent tightening of procedures of UN committees enforcing human rights treaties, the Human Rights Committee concluded that the treaty law ratified by the U.S. requires that the U.S. take certain actions immediately: abolishing all detention facilities, providing every person with access to the Red Cross and to full protection of the law (Concluding Observations of the Human Rights Committee on the United States’ Report discussed at the 87th session, 10-28 July 2–6, 2006, hereinafter “ICCPR,” ¶ 12), and on five other critical issues.
On the interrogation of detainees, the U.S. should: 1) ensure that any revision of the U.S. Army Field Manual only permits interrogation techniques in conformity with ICCPR Art. 7; 2) ensure that all interrogation techniques are binding on all agencies of government and others acting for them; 3) ensure effective means of recourse against abuses by those operating outside the military structure. And the U.S. should sanction those who used or approved such practices, should provide reparation for those on whom these techniques were applied; and it should inform the Committee of any revision of the interrogation techniques approved by the Army Field Manual. (¶ 13).
The U.S. should conduct prompt and independent investigations into all allegations of suspicious deaths and torture or cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment by its agents (including commanders) and contract employees, in detention facilities in Guantanamo, Afghanistan, Iraq, and other overseas locations. It should ensure that those responsible are prosecuted and punished in accordance with the seriousness of the crime committed. The U.S. should adopt all necessary measures to see that these actions do not recur, as well as ensure adequate training of the military and contract employees. (¶ 14)
The Committee wishes to be informed about how the U.S. intends to proceed to provide reparation to the victims. (¶ 14)
The Committee added that the U.S. should amend section 1005(e) of the Detainee Treatment Act to allow detainees in Guantanamo to seek review of their treatment or conditions of detention before a court. (¶ 15)
The U.S. should conduct thorough and independent investigations into allegations that persons have been sent to third countries where they have undergone torture, modify its legislation and policies so that this won’t recur, and provide appropriate remedies to the victims. (¶ 16)
The U.S. should provide the Committee with information on its implementation of the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld that those Guantanamo detainees accused of terrorism offenses are to be judged by a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees required by common article 3 of the Geneva Conventions (1949) and (ICCPR Art. 14). The Committee noted that the U.S. Government had not acted to implement this decision. (¶20)
The U.S. should review its practices and policies to ensure the full implementation of its obligation to protect life and prohibit discrimination, whether direct or indirect, and to follow the United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement in the areas of disaster prevention and preparedness, emergency assistance and relief measures. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the U.S. should increase its efforts to ensure that the rights of poor people, and in particular African-Americans, are fully taken into consideration in the reconstruction plans with regard to access to housing, education and healthcare. (¶ 26)
“The Committee wishes to be informed about the results of the inquiries into the alleged failure to evacuate prisoners at the Parish prison, as well as the allegations that New Orleans residents were not permitted by law enforcement officials to cross the Greater New Orleans Bridge to Gretna, Louisiana.” (¶ 6, boldface in the original)
Other Important Human Rights Issues Raised
The Human Rights Committee carried out its duties to raise with the U.S. every other issue of human rights covered by the Covenant. It emphasized racism in U.S. government policies and practices as to African Americans, Native Americans, and immigrants, resulting in 50% of homeless people in the U.S. being African Americans while only 12% of the population is African American (¶ 22), and de facto segregation in the public schools between the urban and suburban areas. (¶ 23)
The Committee expressed deep concern that the U.S. has taken no action to stop the extinguishment of the rights of aboriginal and indigenous peoples, the keeping of land taken by treaties in the past and the laws permitting land assigned by creating Indian reservations can be extinguished, and so can the rights of indigenous native Hawai’ians (¶ 37).
Five million citizens cannot vote today in the U.S. due to previous felony convictions after they have served their time, with “significant racial implications” (¶ 35), which are also attached to the fact that residents of the District of Columbia do not have full representation in Congress (¶ 36).
And the Committee addressed the laws concerning the rights of youth. The federal government and 42 states permit life imprisonment for offenders who committed the offense before they reached age 18. (¶ 34).
The Committee addressed several problems posed by adoption of the PATRIOT Act and the 2005 REAL ID Act, including the need to with hold removal of asylum seekers (¶ 17); the PATRIOT Act permission to delay notification of home and office searches (Sec. 213) and access to people’s personal records and belongings (sec. 215), and issuing national security letters (Sec. 505) (¶21). The Committee specifically mentioned the need to enforce the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Rasul v. Bush to provide a combatant status review tribunal (¶ 18); and, after 9/11, the problems of detention immigration law and the Material Witness statute (¶ 19).
Call for Compliance by States
Of particular interest to community activists, the Committee specifically requested the U.S. to include in its next periodic report due in 2010 information on its implementation of the Covenant at the state level. The ICCPR specifically requires that all reports after the initial report include such information, which means that the federal government must notify the appropriate officials in each state about the contents of this ICCPR treaty and their duty to report to the federal government their successes and problems and failures to enforce its terms within their states. There was no indication in the 2d/3d combined report that the U.S. government had successfully carried out this responsibility as to any state, although the U.S. Constitution clearly provides that a treaty is “the supreme law of the land” and the ICCPR is clearly such a treaty.
The representatives of one NGO, the Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute of Berkeley, California, reported that it had convinced the City Council in 1995 to make a report to the U.S. to submit to the Committee based on reports of its Police Review Commission and its Commissions on the Status of Women, Youth, Labor and Peace and Justice.
The Committee mentioned several times orally and in its report its concern that the U.S. had not indicated in its written or oral reports that it had implemented many of the remaining recommendations of the Committee in 1995 or implemented the Covenant as a whole, or discussed difficulties encountered in this regard. (¶ 39)
The major U.S. media did not cover the meetings in Geneva at the time, and gave almost no coverage since that time. The Committee specifically requested that the U.S. Reports and the Committee’s Concluding Observations be published and widely disseminated in the U.S. “to the general public as well as to the judicial, legislative and administrative authorities,” and requested that the U.S. circulate its fourth periodic report to the non-governmental organizations after it is prepared for 2010 obviously for their comments before the presentation to the Committee. (¶ 38)
The Committee also encouraged the U.S. to take the step taken by Australia to check that every new piece of legislation proposed at the city, county, state and federal levels is in conformity with the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, “and about mechanisms adopted to ensure proper follow-up of the Committee’s concluding observations.” (¶ 39)
NGOs Get the Word Out
The Committee set 1st August 2010 as the date for the submission of the fourth periodic report of the United States of America.
On their return from Geneva, there is no indication that the U.S. State Department or other federal officials have sought to publicize the report or the Committee concluding observations. Many NGOs have written letters to the editor of local mass media, have been interviewed on the radio and TV, and have published accounts of the Committee meetings on the U.S. report in their own publications.
The Shadow Committee of U.S. NGOs that worked hard and effectively on the U.S. report to the Human Rights Committee is getting involved in preparing for the second U.S. report to the UN Committee on Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD). The report was due in 1997.